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May 23, 2021

Sunday of the Paralytic - House of Mercy (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

"For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water" (Jn. 5:4)

At the pool (in its porticoes) which was at the Sheep Gate "there was a large crowd of sick people" waiting for the descent of the angel to be released from their disease. This "pool" was also visited by the "Angel of Great Counsel", Christ, and He healed the bedridden man who had suffered for thirty-eight years. When the man had no man, He was accepted by the God-man. When he could not enter the pool, after the descent of the angel, he was found worthy to meet the Lord of the angels.

Bethesda - Baptism - Church

The Holy Fathers see a correlation between the Pool of Bethesda and the Pool of the Church, that is, of Holy Baptism. The Sacred Chrysostom says that the Lord with this miracle makes a hint at the Mystery of Baptism. These things are not written simply and randomly, but they depict and imprint what is to take place in the future. "A Baptism was about to be given, possessing much power, and the greatest of gifts, a Baptism purging all sins, and making men alive instead of dead."

The waters of Bethesda had miraculous and not healing properties, because not everyone who entered became well, but only the first to enter after the water was stirred by the angel. And the water of Baptism receives the uncreated energy of God, through which man becomes a member of the Body of Christ. The baptismal font is the womb of the Church. Just as in the womb a man is conceived, carried and born, so in the spiritual womb of the Church man is conceived, carried and born spiritually and becomes a member of the Church. Miracles were performed in the Pool of Bethesda, but miracles happened to one man, at a given moment and with the action of an angel. But with the appearance of Christ all these conditions changed. He Himself is salvation, which is offered to everyone and at any time, as long as man wants it.

But because Holy Baptism is the introductory mystery and through it we become members of the Church, that is why the Pool of Bethesda symbolizes the Church of Christ. In the Church there is always the Grace of the Triune God and heals everyone. Bethesda means "house of mercy" and that is exactly what the Church is. The Church is not a human organization, but a God-Human Organization, not a human association, but a God-Human Body. Everything in it is a mystery, which is why miracles happen all the time. And a "Lord have mercy" that one says in faith becomes a cause of receiving divine Grace. The Church is a constant Pentecost, in which the sick are healed and the dead are resurrected. We sense the Church as being a place of therapeutic healing, that is why we sinners feel comfortable, while the "pious" seek other places, other human organizations, to express their "piety" (social-charitable work, etc.).

The Period of Pentecost and the Gospel of the Apostle John

Apart from the symbolism and correlation we mentioned, the reading of the Gospel of John, which we read throughout this time, is done for two main reasons. First, because the fourth Gospel in the early Church was intended for the most spiritually perfect Christians, who had purified their hearts from the passions and were able to teach the mysteries of the Kingdom of Christ. This Gospel mentions a few miracles performed by Christ, which are connected with the basic Mysteries of the Church. It is an exalted Gospel, since the truths are presented that Christ is the Word of God, the Light and the life of men. Studying the fourth Gospel, one senses well what Saint Gregory Palamas says, that Christ "the pre-eternal God is born for us also as a Theologian." Christ is the true Theologian, because as the Word of God he revealed to us the Name of God the Father and His Counsel.

Secondly, the fourth Gospel is read at this time, because on Holy Saturday, as is well known, the group Baptisms of new Christians took place. The faithful prayed throughout Great Lent for the Catechumens and for those who were pursuing towards Holy Illumination, so that they may be cleansed of their passions, freed from the methods of the devil and receive the "illumination of knowledge and piety." Baptism, after all, is called Illumination, because people receive the true Light, Christ, and are the truly enlightened. So the catechumens went through the stage of purification, during which they were taught to distinguish the energies of God from the energies of the creation and even of the devil. This was done by reading the first three Gospels. After Holy Baptism, after receiving illumination, they could understand the deeper meaning of the word of God (being united with the Word of God), which is why at this time this eminently theological Gospel was read.

The inner connection of John the Evangelist with Christ (who leaned on His chest during the Secret Supper) and with the Panagia (he took her into his home as a gift of Christ to him) gave us this theological Gospel, which the Church ordained to be read at this time, in which we sail in the resurrection joy.

Some Great Truths

From what has been said, the following is clear. First, the spiritual life is a continual progression. There is no end to the spiritual life, but a continuous perfecting. Man, from the purification of the heart, proceeds to the illumination of the nous and then enters the theoria (vision) of God, which has no end. Saint Gregory of Nyssa typically says that "virtue is a term that is without term". And elsewhere he says: "By virtue we learn a term of perfection, one that does not have a term." This progress has to do with a sense of sinfulness and the life of repentance.

Second, reading the Gospels is very important for the spiritual life, but understanding it does not depend on our cognitive state, but on our spiritual state. It is proportional to the degree of the illumination we have. Also the interpretation of the Gospel is offered authentically by the Church to its members and in fact during Divine Worship and in the spirit of Worship.

No one can give arbitrary interpretations. Heretics cannot possibly interpret it well.

Thirdly, it is terrible to have received Holy Baptism (Illumination) and not yet have entered the stage of purification and to be tormented by the state of our impurities.

Remaining in the spiritual Bethesda, the Church (House of Mercy), having the spirit of constant and fiery repentance, will accept the visit of the God-man, who will heal and illuminate our existence.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.